Monday, October 30, 2017

Except Samtse

You ask a friend of yours. And the question is, “How many dzongkhags have you visited?”

He or she says, “All the dzongkhags, except Lhuentse, Gasa and …”

And Samtse.
Bird's-eye view of Samtse
Not many Bhutanese have travelled to this low-lying land, hot and humid in the summer and pleasant and dry in the winter. It’s because of its geographical location. An area of approximately 1309.1 square kilometers and located at the extreme southwestern foothill of Bhutan, people hardly have to travel to this isolated dzongkhag. Only those who belong to the place or they do for business or official purpose travel here.

In the last two years, I’ve visited Samtse several times. And I must tell you that I’m in love with this humble place. I’ve found this sparsely populated place simply humble, kind, and enchanting. It’s considered as a poor, remote, and backward dzongkhag. Yet, to me, Samtse is absolutely vibrant, rich, and affectionate. It’s the land of different cultures, different ethnic groups such as Lhotshampas, Doyap, Adibashi, and Drukpas, and different languages.
What fascinates me the most is its history of Dewan and Kazi (Landlords) and Mandals, and how they used to rule the place. In actuality, it's the land of diversity.

Now Samtse is growing - bigger, larger, and richer. The Samtse town, otherwise a shanty and deserted throm, is now getting a new facelift. Today many new concrete buildings are being constructed, as more and more businessmen see some possible prospects. There’s already a new shopping complex and some good hotels and restaurants.

The Samtse College of Education and other schools in the dzongkhag have undergone a major uplift in terms of their infrastructure and education development. The dzongkhag has got its own economic real estate at Dam Dum and a hydropower substation. And I’ve seen all this growth within the last two years.

Finally, Samtse could dispel itself from its curse of being “poor, remote, and backward.” Education and income level of its people is improving annually, as mobility of its people is more and the people are working harder and growing cash crops.

I have visited many pockets of this dzongkhag and I am going to show you why I fell in love with it.

Diana Bridge: It is undoubtedly the longest motorable bridge in the country spanning over the Diana River between the Samtse town and Chengmari. Such a pleasant site to visit and interesting thing about this 325m long bridge is that you can also walk across it.
Diana Bridge
Sunsets: Samtse offers you with splendid sunset in the evening. It’s always awe-inspiring to sit and watch the sun turning into a marmalade glow, pink and ember, and then slowing disappearing behind the infinite landscape. In fact, it's my favourite thing to do in Samtse.
Budhuney bridge
Chengmari cakes: Mr. Binod, a young man, runs a good bakery at Chengmari in Samtse. He told me that he got training in baking from Thimphu and after that he opened the shop at his own hometown. I liked his cakes and cookies so much. They are delicious. It’s a must visit place for me when I travel to Samtse.   
Chengmari bakery
Shivalya Mandir: This Mandir was rebuilt upon the command of His Majesty the King as a gift to the people of Samtse to commemorate the Royal Wedding and the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. It is such a beautiful religious site, as the mandir houses one of the finest and expensive statues of Lord Shiva imported from Rajasthan.
Shivalaya Mandir
Lhop: Samtse is also home to about 2,500 Lhops (Doya). They are a little-studied ethnic group that resides at Lotokochu in Dorokha, about 50 km away from Samtse town. We believe them to be the aboriginals and they are known for their unique culture and tradition practices such as marrying cross cousins, burial customs, and animistic religious rites.
A Doyap with his radio
Volleyball: One sport that the people of Samtse love is volleyball. Whenever I visit the place, I always come across men of all ages playing the game and I noticed they are really good at it. So when I have time I always join them. It’s so much of fun. 

Swimming: There are a couple of rivers - Budhuney and Diana - I’ve discovered that we can go throw ourselves to beat the monsoon heat. With an average temperature of 26.6 °C, the people definitely have to find a place for swimming. 
Swimming place at Budhuney River

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A paradise: the valley of Punakha

We often called Bhutan a paradise. In fact, the outsiders find it absolutely fascinating, serene, and beautiful. I mustn’t talk much here, as no words can paint its beauty, splendor. So here are some pictures of Punakha valley, which I had taken during my visit to the place a few weeks ago. Have a lovely day, dear reader!

Friday, July 21, 2017

In India, tea making is an art

It was an early May morning. Along with my two colleagues, I was at Bengali Market in New Delhi. There was a rustle on the street, as this small town was just beginning to resume its regular activities. Cleaners were brooming the streets, vendors were packaging goods and loading on their bicycles, and shopkeepers were just pulling up their shutters. 
That fine morning, we were looking for chai wala, tea maker, to have a cup of tea and some good snacks. Being a Bhutanese, quite wondrously, it’s not alcohol but tea that has been very close to my heart since my childhood. Actually I got this habit from my mother. Every day, my day starts with a nice cup of tea, then I probably have a few cups during the daytime, and it ends with a cup of evening tea. And especially when I am in India, I am after chai. Indian tea is very different, special and indeed the best for me.

After making one round of the street, right behind the main lane, we spotted a tea stall. Before us, a few Indian men were sitting around drinking tea with some cookies. The tea maker is a man in his early 30s. He wore a serious expression - maybe it was early morning and he couldn't really shake off his sleep. 
It was a very small stall made of concrete bricks but he had everything required for his business. A gas cylinder and stove, several containers of tea ingredients, pots to keep local raw milk, saucepan and paper cups. He also had some cookies.

We asked for three cups of tea. “Double cup.” It means double the size of the smallest teacup he had. Then he measured water into a saucepan, added one teaspoon of black tea leave into the water, and he waited for the water to a boil. 

This was the time when we could talk to the tea maker. He told us that he was from Kolkata and he had migrated to Delhi for many years and life in the capital city has been better. Then I knew this guy would brew a good tea for us. Kolkata is the undisputed tea capital of India. I had visited it a few times in the past and you get the finest tea there on the streets.

Consignments of Assam and Darjeeling are shipped to the international market from Kolkata. I have found from some of the officials in Delhi that tea has come a long journey in India. Tea plantations started in the country in 1830’s by the British; however, in the beginning tea was used as a medicine. Only in the early 1900’s, tea-drinking culture spread in in India and now it has an integral part of their life. As we see, tea is now grown widely in India and there are over 2000 producers of high quality tea in the country. 
After the Bengali tea maker could bring the water to a boil, he added in a few teaspoons of sugar. He also poured in some milk from ever-greater heights and then he crushed some cinnamon and cardamom and added in the pan. He did with sharp vividness and scale. I observed him very close. He continued it to boil for sometime, stirring so it doesn't boil over. He strained it and served us in paper cups. 

Good heavens, this tea was very special, sweet and milky spiced with cardamom and cinnamon. I had yearned chai for a quite long time then. As I drank it, I savored every sip.

Tea making is definitely a skill; skill one acquires through many years of practice. But observing closely - the entire process of brewing tea - is more than a skill. In fact, it is an art as it entails expression of creative skill and a little bit of magic. That's why chai is absolutely special and delicious. That's why only the Indians can make it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Darla - an art on canvas

I am going to talk about Darla, a village under Chukha dzongkhag. This wide valley is about five miles south of Gedu. As we travel between Thimphu and Phuentsholing, we see Darla always being clouded with dark dense fog, or rather receiving rain.

“What a boring place to live?” the commuters say, almost contemptuously.

And they wonder, “I wonder this place ever receives sunlight!”

Three months ago, I had an official work at Gedu and my colleagues and I decided to visit Darla. Frankly speaking, I was not at all excited about the visit. For I thought this place was no fun. Moreover, I heard it was infected with deadly snakes and leeches. And in some strange ways, I was little nervous.   

However, office work is office work. You like it or not, you have to go and do it. Initially, I decided not to carry camera with me because I thought what would I shoot under those fog and rain. And I was not interested to take pictures of those snakes and leeches. Seriously.

In the end, I took it. And I didn’t regret my decision.
It was early evening when we arrived at Darla. The sky above, then, was just open and this was the first time I could see entire texture of the valley. It amazed me thoroughly, and I fell in love with her instantly.

Putting on quite the expression of a joyful lover, I looked upon her, sincerely, with utmost admiration. Over the overcast of awfully gorgeous blue sky, a few lines of cumulous clouds spread like strokes of fine paintbrush. The sun was just setting and patterns of its rays shining through the clouds were making on the valley. It appeared to me like the Almighty above was just blessing it. 
Darla was a vast stretch of country, which was inhibited by over 670 Ngalong and Lhotsham households. Different shapes and colours of houses were scattered all over with mountains on the opposite. Exceptionally tall and giant dark woods grew abundantly, and broadleaf grass and cardamom plants in deep green tenderly blanketed surface of the valley.

Right between it meandered the dwindling road, and this nice blacktop road was interestingly bendy, yes, exactly like the shape of a snake. And we rode down in snaking movement. This ride was strangely joyous; indeed it’s one of the most thrilling rides of my life.
I dropped my luggage in my room at guesthouse and then I rushed out again because I didn't want to miss the beauty outside. I walked on the road keenly watching the wonderful landscape of Darla and the cumulous clouds that hung in the sky. And also feeling the pleasant odour of the trees that were just bursting into leaf. It felt like I was in the company of a beautiful woman.
On the road, I came across a group of countrywomen with spades in their hands. They were just returning from their farm, from their daylong hard labour. 

“Kuzu Zangpo la!” I greeted them.

They responded me promptly, “Kuzu la.”

“I am scouting your village,” I said smiling and added matter-of-factly, “Your village is very beautiful. I am already loving it here very much.”
Las la. Lopoen, where are you from?” the oldest woman, supposedly in her 40s, from the group asked me.

I said I came from Thimphu.

“Thank you for liking it here. Darla hardly opens up. But when it does, it’s beautiful.” she said. 

They left, and I resumed walking. 
Gradually the evening grew deeper, and I grew more fascinated. To put it more accurately, I was bewitched. The sky had turned absolutely magnificent maroon, ember, and there was something so evocative about the myriad ways the clouds play in the sky. 
“It can’t be real,” I said to myself. 

It's like I was looking at a brilliant art on canvas. And I fell in love more. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

What do I do when I do visit Sherubtse

I am envy of my friends. When I tell them, “Hey, I am going to Sherubtse College”, or “I am at Kanglung,” they just can’t believe me. They simply wish to be at the “Peak of Learning”. The truth is that Kanglung has become engraved in our hearts. And we love it. Dearly. Deeply.  
“If SherCol were a girl, no matter what, I would have married it already,” a friend of mine stated to me a few months back.

In fact, he meant it. And he meant it seriously. I can read his mind quite well. For Kanglung was absolutely ravishing, elegant, romantic and strangely mysterious. And I think there are none who didn’t fall for her. 
Today, after 10 years, it still makes me giddy with a great pride and delight just to say that I’m an ex-Sherubtsean. In fact, all of us keep albums, and college photos inside. When we meet in Thimphu or elsewhere, we leaf through the albums, talk nonstop about the college recollecting those golden days. That’s how much we love her.

So to say, I was at the college about a month ago. As usual, I was supercharged, super excited. As I stepped inside her, I couldn’t really believe that it has been already a decade that I had left the place, graduated from this place. I missed her terribly.   

So many things about her have been transformed. New footpaths have been made around the campus, several new building structures have been erected and the football field is undergoing a major transformation.
Besides, everything is same. The same old jumbo gate still stands majestically in front of the college. Those monstrous-size dormitories still house young college inhabitants. The red and maroon colour academic blocks still retain those unusually huge and gothic windows. The clock tower is still standing tall, which reminds me of classic fairy tales and magic.

So what I did when I am at the college, and here are they:

Baley and bonda: The first thing that I did in Kanglung was I visited NP Restaurant. I ordered two pieces of baleys and ate quite avidly. This is what I used to have with my college mates back in those days. Quite surprisingly, the baleys still retain the same old taste, smell, colour and shape. This is quite amazing. This is quite delicious.
And I marched into Sangrila, a GREF canteen. I munched on bonda and nimki with hot Indian tea. I felt so nice. In fact, this is the place we used to go eat when our wallet was thin. 
Library: The library of Sherubtse is one of the largest in the country. Besides the national library of Bhutan, it possesses the biggest book of the world. The two-storey library is quite rich with thousands of books and I felt so nice to see the students browsing, reading books. But what I like most about this place is its collection of classic literature and novels.

Tower: Sitting on a hilltop and watching the clock tower is another thing that I love to do. It stands absolutely majestic and alluring. The sight gives me an eerily gothic feeling, yet very beautifully enchanting one.
Pangthang: This place, about 5 km away from the college campus, is spectacular. I absolutely love the place - beautiful plain surrounded by rich forests, rice fields, and chorten. And the sunset here is just magnificent.
Kanglung Zangdopelri: The Zangdopelri, seated next to the college, is a beautiful and serene paradise. This temple had a special relationship with the college, where the college students used to teach English language to the monks and the monks would perform rimdro for the college.  
Talk show: During my last visit, I’ve delivered a talk on media to a group of Media Studies students and life at Sherubtse during my time a decade ago. I shared my memories of SherCol - about Introductory Nite, Blind Date, Ragging, Kanglung gi tsharim, etc, which are mostly disallowed today.

I always thought that the story of my life at Sherubtse was over the moment I had graduated. But walking around the campus and looking at the young aspiring buddies, and sharing my experience with them makes me feel that there’s more to life here, there’s more to give back to the place that had nurtured me. And it makes me feel truly complete.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Tower

One thing that is exceptionally grandiose about Sherubtse College in Kanglung is its tower. Tall, giant and handsome, it stands absolutely majestic and alluring. Every time I visit here, its sight gives me an eerily gothic feeling, yet beautifully enchanting one. And I think of those fairytales I had read during my childhood - of Rapunzel, of Cindrella.

How mesmerizing! How bewitching!

This is one reason that this college in the far east is so engraved in my heart, and I am quite sure nothing can erase those memories spent, made in the “Peak of Learning”.

So after 10 years, I could make it to the college again and this time I am lucky that I got more time to stay here. Here are some photographs of the tower I took.

Pic: The Tower against the full moon
Pic: As the college football field undergoing artificial turfing, basketball seems main athletic event
And the college's magazine is called "The Tower"

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trashigang through my digital lens

Trashigang Town
Woesel Choling Monastery in Rangjung: Blessed to see it again and again
Yonphula: The place I started loving after I listened to "Yonphula ley eto meto" song by Misty Terrace
Wamrong Town
Khaling: One of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan
Almost an entire valley of empty beer bottles. Sharchops can really drink
A brokpa lady: Brokpas come lower hills of Trashigang with their cattle during winter

Sherubtse College: The college that produced most of the Bhutanese high officials in the govt., corporation and business
Sports complex: A place where most youth spend their leisure time
Changjiji colony: There really is a place called Changjiji complex in Trashigang
Surprisingly, you get to watch wonderful sunsets in Trashigang